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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

NFL Predictions 2012 Week 2: Chiefs vs Bills

Kansas City Chiefs vs Buffalo Bills: KC +3.5 (Pinnacle)


This is a curious point spread. The line opened at -3, but with juice on the home favorite. You can either take the +3 at even money or pay 10 cents and get the hook.  Personally, I'll take the extra half point at that price every time.  It's tough to say where the line is going to go, but I'd be surprised if it didn't close at -3 at regular juice. Given the additions the Chiefs are getting back on defense, it doesn't make much sense to put them at anything more than field goal underdogs.

Would a Real QB Please Stand Up

On paper, this game features two teams with very similiar projections for 2012. Each have a defense that is supposed to finish in the top half of the league as well as quarterbacks who are supposed to improve on their previous years of inconsistency.

If you are a Bills fan you might want to skip ahead because my personal impression of Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't very good.  The offense is designed to suit his skill-set which is getting the ball out quick.  Before the snap he seems in control and knows where he's going with the ball. The problems come once the ball is snapped.  He continues to have accuracy issues and often gets flustered once he gets pressured.

Now I'm not saying that Matt Cassel is much better, because he's not. Last week everything looked pretty good until the Chiefs got down two scores.  Cassel will get a lot of blame for three straight turnovers that put the game out of reach, but really it was only the last interception that was his fault.  The first was a strip-sack and the second bounced off his receivers hands.

Having said that, that third interception was god awful and something you'd expect to see from a rookie quarterback.  Cassel's strengths are managing an offense designed to play to his abilities - primarily the short passing game and trusting his progressions.  Expecting him to lead a multiple score comeback late in games isn't in his repertoire.

The All-Injured (Suspended) Team

The single biggest reason I like the Chiefs in this spot is due to the injury report.  We've already seen Tony Moeaki, Jamaal Charles, and Eric Berry return from ACL injuries, but this week expect to see Brandon Flowers back in the secondary where he was sorely missed in Week 1.  The other huge addition this week will be the return of Tamba Hali.

Hali's presence alone is going to elevate the entire defense and allow guys like Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson to take advantage on the rush. Eric Berry will also factor in on various blitzes.  Kendrick Lewis is still out and there's no word on Anthony Toribio yet, but the overall picture on this side of the ball is much better than last week. 

On the other side of the coin we have much worse news for the Bills.  Fred Jackson is out with an injury which will leave the full-time duties to CJ Spiller.  Spiller was already expected to have an expanded role this year and displayed his home-run threat last week vs the Jets, but Jackson was the full package.  He could run inside or outside, pass block, and catch balls out of the backfield.  I don't think Spiller is going to fare as well and could be a liability when KC bring extra pressure.

The other blow was the injury to Donald Jones. TJ Graham was expected to challenge for the second receiver spot, but now there are big questions after Stevie Johnson. This is even more problematic once you consider that Flowers (if healthy) can take care of Johnson without much help. This is going to force an even bigger load on Fitzpatrick which is something I wouldn't be too comfortable with if I was a Bills backer.

Who's Ready for Prime-Time?

Certainly Cassel and Fitzpatrick have their hot-and-cold issues, but I like what the KC offense has to work with much, much more than Buffalo.  Kevin Boss and Tony Moeaki line up in two tight-end sets creating matchup problems over the middle - an area where the Buffalo defense is weak.  Throw in an excellent and dynamic Dexter McCluster and Jamaal Charles and you have a multitude of options on any given play.  Dwayne Bowe is still a beast outside, but he'll have a challenge with either Stephon Gilmore or Aaron Williams.

The KC O-line has a solid starting unit, but there is virtually no depth behind them. As long as they stay healthy they shouldn't be too overwhelmed by the lethal Buffalo D-line. This is the real key on Sunday because if that Bills front can't dominate, they'll have a hard time winning games this season. Given that KC aren't a downfield vertical passing offense that requires extra time in pass protection, this matchup plays to KC's strengths and Buffalo's weaknesses over the middle and in the run game.   

Bottom Line

This game could go any direction given the issues at quarterback, but it's no secret how much I like KC this year thanks to their versatility on both sides of the ball.  Now healthy, we should see a much better product on gameday.  It's not an easy spot facing another team in a must-win scenario in their home opener, but I have to put faith into my projections and trust that the injury situation will be a difference.

NFL Pick: KC +3.5.

The rest of my Week 2 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.
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